Conservation of Sri Lanka’s Marine Heritage

Conservation of Sri Lanka’s Marine Heritage

Sri Lanka’s waters are home to an astounding array of plant and animal life. While coastal ecosystems are typically associated with coral reefs, shipwrecks, which have been unintentionally scattered in the sea, also transform into unique habitats for many marine flora and fauna that find refuge in the various nooks and crevices.

Dilmah Conservation initiated its foray into marine conservation with the documentation of the Kayankerni Reef in the East Coast of Sri Lanka, which is host to a diverse array of corals and other vibrant plant and animal life. Located off Kalkudah in the Batticaloa District, Kayankerni is home to a high diversity and abundance of marine life including 207 species of fish observed up to date. Dilmah Conservation is seeking to have this location declared as a protected site so that the reef will be able to thrive once more.

Conservation of Sri Lanka’s Marine Heritage

Kayankerni is also of particular importance due to the historic shipwreck sites located adjacent to the reef. ‘The British Sergeant’, a merchant vessel that sank after coming under fire when it altered its course to help a carrier in 1942, and SS Lady McCallum, a cargo ship which ran aground in 1926, are located off the Kayankerni Reef. Dilmah Conservation is in the process of assessing these sites towards protecting the distinct and diverse ecosystems they host. The documentation will include visible biodiversity of the reef, estimate substrate composition and percentage of live coral cover over substrates, reef health including pollution, human impacts, invasive reef organisms, other processors active on the reef and general threats that affect the wellbeing of the reef.

Dilmah Conservation is also seeking to preserve other important marine sites including Komari, Manmune, Pasikuda, Pigeon Island, Coral Island, Red Rocks, and Salappai Aru.

In line with its commitment to protect marine species, Dilmah Conservation has conducted awareness programmes and surveys with a view to protect Sri Lanka’s elusive and incredibly rare dugong population. Given the dangers dugong are facing at present and the importance of conserving them, Sri Lanka became a signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Dugongs and Their Habitats throughout their Range (Dugong MOU) in early 2012. The MOU operates under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The UNEP/CMS Office – Abu Dhabi is currently working with the Department of Wildlife Conservation, IUCN Sri Lanka and Dilmah Conservation to implement preliminary work on conserving the dugong.

  • Objectives

    • Sustain and contribute towards conservation of marine species
    • Create awareness among local communities and stakeholders of the importance of marine life.
  • Progress

    • Several spot surveys of the surf were carried out as a preliminary study followed by a rapid survey of the reef areas using 2 divers on an 850m long diver tow over the eastern section of the reef at Thennadi Bay. The areas were assessed for general habitat types, reef health indicators, and general biodiversity of non-cryptic daytime fauna and documented using underwater photography and video. The coral areas within the eastern section of the Thennadi Bay are composed of three roughly fan shaped reef areas.
    • A report on the preliminary survey of the reef was published and is available under ‘resources’ on this website.
    • November of 2011, Dilmah Conservation marine biologist, Ranil Nanayakkara led a large-scale investigation on current dugong populations in eastern Sri Lanka. Dugongs are shy in nature and rarely found in groups larger than two and identifying feeding sites is no easy task. Therefore, Nanayakkara and his team drew on the experience of rural fisherman from Eravur to Batticaloa to help piece together dugongs’s Sri Lankan distribution. Following hundreds of interviews, Dilmah Conservation has acquired valuable information that can serve as a base for future dugong population research.
    • A preliminary map has been developed with the information gathered during the survey, based on the responses of the fishermen interviewed to indicate the dugong habitats in Mannar and Jaffna provinces.
    • Several awareness programs were conducted for local communities of the identified potential dugong hotspots. These included puppet shows focusing on Dugongs which aimed to raise awareness in children.
    • Several booklets on Dugong were also distributed throughout local towns and schools, these books were published in Tamil which is the prevailing language in the identified locations.
    Conservation of Sri Lanka’s Marine Heritage Conservation of Sri Lanka’s Marine Heritage